One of the leads in Broadway by the Bay’s lush production of “La Cage aux Folles” is actually a bit shy.
“I’m kind of a claustrophobe,” says Curt Denham, who plays nightclub owner Georges in the award-winning show. “I like the separation between audience and performer — it’s a protective environment. They can’t cross that line.”
But they’ll likely applaud when show opens Thursday at the San Mateo Performing Arts Center.
Denham, who works as a financial manager by day at San Francisco General Hospital, stars alongside Ray Mendonca, who morphs into drag queen Albin in the popular musical that’s been turning heads for nearly 40 years.
Originally a French production by Jean Poiret that took flight in the early 1970s only to later become a series of hot foreign films, it hit Broadway with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman from a book by Harvey Fierstein.
Tony Awards arrived. So did a U.S. film version, called “The Birdcage,” starring Nathan Lane and Robin Williams.
Throughout all of its incarnations, audiences are taken in by memorable music and captivating storyline: Confusion sprouts for a St. Tropez night club owner (Georges) and his gay lover (Albin) when their son brings his fiancee’s ultra-conservative parents for dinner.
“The show itself is a lot of fun,” Denham says. “It’s a classic music-theater piece, and I think our production numbers look like they are going to be pretty spectacular.”
Watch for memorable renditions of showstoppers like “I Am What I Am,” “The Best of Times” and “La Cage aux Folles.”
Denham says what he’s been enjoying most about the production is knowing that “for two and half hours of your day you know exactly what is going to happen.
“I do mostly musical theater, and it’s mostly happy endings,” he adds. “So I think, living this other character and being in a positive environment, and knowing assuredly what’s going to be the outcome — that’s what it’s about for me. Not so much accolades.”
As for the show’s appeal over the decades, Denham points out that its themes have always remained relevant.
“I mean, here we are 25 years later, still struggling to gain acceptance in the construct of the family,” he says. “But I think it resonates with people because it’s about love and relationships. So, whether it’s related to homosexuality or not, it’s about finding your family, your supported structure. And that touches all of us in some way.”
IF YOU GO
La Cage aux Folles
Presented by Broadway by the Bay
Where: Performing Arts Center, 600 N. Delaware Ave., San Mateo
When: 8 p.m. most Thursdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. most Sundays; closes Oct. 3
Tickets: $20 to $48
Contact: (650) 579-5565; www.broadwaybythebay.org